Case Study: Adams National Historic Site

Adams National Historic Park has three houses that visitors can tour. There are the two birth site houses, and Peacefield where five generations of Adams lived, and which is rich with original artifacts and stories. The house showcases the home not only of two of our presidents, but also provides a glimpse into an agrarian past, now set in a high density urban environment.

The Challenges

Which stories to tell? What to fit into a tour? How to balance information and experience? How to connect to new and diverse audiences? The site is blessed with a richness of stories and artifacts and with a devoted staff, many who have returned as seasonal employees for years. They were interested in techniques that helped them see the familiar with new eyes. They wanted to refresh their tours and stories and provide more opportunity during a tours for visitors to formulate and contribute their own insights, stories and observations.

The Solutions

During a one-day training we focused on how to look at the site through new eyes using a 'sense of place' lens to help give context to their stories. We also focused on how to craft tours so they had the right mix of information, story and interaction. The training consisted of long term staff and returning seasonals.

Goals

  • Creative reboot
  • See the familiar through new eyes
  • Design new tours/ tweak current tours
  • Learn new techniques for developing content, delivering programs and engaging visitors
  • Team-build & recharge

Results

As a result of the training, interpreters were able to:
Recharge their creative juices and get new ideas flowing.
Explore the site and it's resources from a sense of place perspective.
Gain skills to help them with their story-crafting, pacing, timing and delivery.
Gain valuable insight through facilitated conversations about sense of place, visitor motivations and visitor experiences.

The sense of place tools added to their prior knowledge bank and tool kit. The day also provided a soulful opportunity for team-building, story sharing and personal restoration before launching headfirst into a busy summer season.

Specifically, interpreters said during their tours they planned to:
"Work on showing vs. telling." 
"Make an effort to get to the point more quickly."
"Really put myself in the visitor shoes for how best to arrange information."
"More questions. Less facts."
"To be willing to change up the tours. Not to be locked in."
"Considering sense of place in an historic site helps bring it alive. Of special use is considering the senses beyond site and sound for vivid storytelling."

    Participant Feedback

    "I personally found your training session more useful than most in the last 15 years because it was compatible with my sense of place, story, and language without the jargon."

    As a result of the training "I told stories that happened in the rooms we were in, which tightened up the tour and connected folks to each room and the Adams's...harder at the Old House because of so many generations there, but at John's study I would point out what furniture was there when he died and that seemed to be effective."

    "I challenged people to imagine scenes based on items in collection that had meaningful stories attached to them. That worked very well in all houses and turned tours more toward conversation. Also had more people give ghost shivers and/or tear up....lots of "Wow, that happened here??"

    What tools were most useful?

    "The thought that the gardens might be a “generational art piece” via the “Story in your Pocket” tool. [I liked] considering the old house as an anthology for trying to build a thematically consistent tour."

    ""Story in your Pocket" allowed for me to reflect on old and new stories that I use."

    "I found the "Touchstone Story" tool to be quite enlightening. It allowed me to discover new connections with places within myself. I hope to translate that realization to helping visitors make similar connections through my programs."

    "I found the creative writing portions to be very insightful. Through exploring different ideas, it opens to them to previously unconsidered possibilities."

    "The "Find your Sweet Spot" session where we broke into groups and created different levels of “energy” on our tours because I was able to see how others did theirs."

    "The "Check Your Earthmail" when we were outside using our senses to the fullest."

    "Considering sense of place in an historic site helps bring it alive. Of special use is considering the senses beyond site and sound for vivid storytelling."

    What did you learn? What will you implement?

    "I still need to work on showing vs. telling."

    "To be willing to change up the tours. Not to be locked in."

    "I think the idea of bringing a story to life via a few well-chosen details is compelling."

    "Not to be trapped in logistics—keep the focus on visitor experience, welcomed not rushed."

    "I think to trim down the information I give. Say a little less."

    "Considering the "Find your Sweet Spot" exercise I will definitely  make an effort to get to the point more quickly."

    "Do more conversational tours. More questions. Less facts. Shorten total tour. Leave time at end for additional questions."

    "To really put myself in the visitor shoes for how best to arrange information."

    "Reflect on the conversation and the training and what sense of place means for me and the visitor."

    "I will use the tools in the training to help envelop the visitor in the past, to make the house less a backdrop and more an experience."

    Why take the training? What can others gain?

    "It gives us a shot in the arm and it is always good to have an exchange of ideas."

     "Need to take time to be creative, which the NPS forgets, or does not foster."

    "It had good info. Some guides feel they need to impart EVERYTHING they know on each tour. They don’t need to do that. Sometimes less is more."

    "Very little jargon, good understanding of creativity required for good visitor experience."

    "Can absolutely benefit for other sites on taking a step back to reflect."

    "It’s different. The music adds a different and whimsical approach but also very meaningful and thought-provoking. Not your run of the mill training, if you will."

    "This will help new interpreters discover ideas that help connect with visitors effectively."

    "Get a better understanding of interpretation. Be better interpreters."

    "I found the format very fast moving and easy to digest."

    "Thank you for an enjoyable and productive day. Great musical addition."

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Feature 1

    The following is placeholder text known as “lorem ipsum,” which is scrambled Latin used by designers to mimic real copy. Phasellus sodales massa malesuada tellus fringilla, nec bibendum tellus blandit. Quisque congue porttitor ullamcorper.

    Feature 2

    The following is placeholder text known as “lorem ipsum,” which is scrambled Latin used by designers to mimic real copy. Quisque congue porttitor ullamcorper. In sit amet felis malesuada, feugiat purus eget, varius mi. Donec eget risus diam. Mauris id fermentum nulla. Suspendisse nec congue purus.

    Feature 3

    The following is placeholder text known as “lorem ipsum,” which is scrambled Latin used by designers to mimic real copy. Phasellus sodales massa malesuada tellus fringilla, nec bibendum tellus blandit. Donec eu est non lacus lacinia semper. Vestibulum ante ipsum primis in faucibus orci luctus et ultrices posuere cubilia Curae. Class aptent taciti sociosqu ad litora torquent per conubia nostra, per inceptos himenaeos.